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Difference between macOS, iOS and iPadOS? Best Explanation

macOS, iOS and iPadOS

Apple has unveiled the news that will come with the update of its three main operating systems later this year: macOS Big Sur, iPadOS 14 and iOS 14. Although these software platforms work for Mac, iPad and iPhone respectively, it seems that they get closer to each other. 

In terms of features and design it is increasingly evident, now that Apple has revealed that it will change the internal configuration of its Macs to its own processors, with the arrival of the first model scheduled for later this year. 

Currently, developers must adapt their applications for different devices and versions of the operating system. So what is the key difference between macOS, iPadOS and iOS? We take a look at what makes them unique and what they have in common.

What features do macOS, iPadOS, and iOS share?

There are more aspects in common between different operating systems than you can imagine. We are going to see each and every one of them.

Application icons

macOS Big Sur has a few new features that make it look and feel more similar to the iOS experience than previous versions, but probably the most striking change is the revamped macOS icons. 

As with the iPhone and iPad, Mac icons will now have a uniform shape and size for all applications, unlike the mismatch of the square, circular and random designs that have been used until now. 


Looking at the icons in the Big Sur Dock (pictured above), they are much more similar to those on iOS and iPadOS. In fact, the Dock itself is more like the Dock on iPadOS than ever: from space to the square icon with rounded corners. 

Control center

We are used to sliding your finger on our mobile screens to open the Control Center on iOS and iPadOS. This gives us quick access to the configuration of Bluetooth, wifi, brightness, volume and other elements. Now, Macs will offer the same convenience.

Screenshot 2

Clicking on the new icon at the top right of the menu bar displays the sheet that includes many of the options that you will be used to on your iPad or iPhone. Everything is very familiar, really.

Notification center

Another change in Big Sur is the redesign of the Notification Center. When the update arrives, it will mean Mac users will see grouped notifications for each app, interactive elements to see details without starting an app. 

We also have macOS Big Sur with the arrival of new widgets that offer useful information at a glance.

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These widgets are also one of the outstanding features in iOS 14, since for the first time you will be able to place them on the iPhone home screen. IPads also have a widget section that can be viewed on the home screen or hidden. 

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Search for

When looking for things on iOS and iPadOS, the screen usually goes blank, making it impossible to reference something you had on the screen. This now changes in iPadOS 14 to match the Spotlight style search bar used in macOS. 

Searches are also universal, so you will find any file on your device that matches the terms you are entering. 

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Until now, if you wanted to create a Memoji to use in Messages, you required an iPhone or iPad. Now, with Big Sur, you can also create your own personal avatar from your Mac. 

You will still need an iPhone X or later, iPad Pro 11 or later, or 12.9-inch iPad Pro (3rd generation) to create Animojis. 


When Siri first arrived in 2011, it was just for the iPhone. But since 2012, it has been available for iPad, and since 2016, for Mac. From answering questions to launching applications, Siri is deeply integrated into macOS, iPadOS and iOS. 

One of the new features of Siri on iOS and iPadOS is the fact that it will no longer take over your screen, something it has never done on Mac. If you want to have a good time, check out our article on the most frequently asked questions. fun and crazy to do to Siri .

Apple apps

Apple does a great job of making its applications available across its full range of products. This means that you do not need to find alternatives if you are on a mobile device or desktop computer. 

Messaging, Maps, Mail, Calendar, Safari, Reminders, and more work seamlessly through iCloud, and they’re starting to look alike even thanks to settings not just for Big Sur, but also for iPadOS and iOS. You will soon forget which devices you use, as the experience will be the same on all of them.

In fact, one of the biggest benefits of being within the Apple ecosystem is that the data you have associated with a particular application can be made available to any device you are using thanks to iCloud. 

For example, if you activate iCloud Photo Library, all your photos will be available on all your devices; Or if you use Pages to process texts, all your documents will be available on all your devices.

Over the years, these applications have become increasingly similar. In fact, ever since Apple introduced Mac Catalyst to macOS Catalina, it has been very easy for developers to port their iPad apps to Mac. 

And Apple has used Catalyst to bring versions of iOS apps to Mac, like the TV app and, in Big Sur, the iOS version of Messages.

Phone calls, Messages and FaceTime

Speaking of which, if you thought the main difference between an iPhone and a Mac was the fact that you can make calls and send text messages on a phone, think again. 

For some time, it has been possible to send and receive text messages on your Mac using the Messages application. FaceTime is now available on Mac, which means you can use the larger screen for your video calls. 

Default apps

One of the advantages macOS has always had over its younger siblings is the amount of control the user has over the default applications. Do you want Firefox to open when you click on a web link? It is easy to make it happen. 

Try the same on iOS or iPadOS and you will quickly find that Safari is blocked as the system access browser. This is changing in iOS 14 and iPadOS 14, albeit in a controlled way. 

When these updates arrive, you’ll be able to choose which apps are the default for email and web browsing. It is not exactly the advance that many have been asking Apple, but it is a start.

Will Apple combine macOS, iPadOS and iOS operating systems?

The move to Apple’s own processors across the entire product range opens up the possibility of closer integration between the notebook and desktop class, and mobile products in terms of software . 

Apple recently demonstrated its ARM chip Mac Pro that runs iOS games natively, plus the aforementioned Mac Catalyst technology allows developers to quickly adapt iOS and iPadOS applications to macOS, albeit with redesigned interfaces and designs.

It is difficult to answer if we will ever see full convergence. At the moment it still seems a long way off, but it’s fair to say that Apple products have never been as aligned as they are now.

If you’re wondering which device is right for you, check out our comparison article iPad (2019) vs iPad Air where we compare the two largest platforms. Meanwhile, we continue to keep the best of the three. 

What are the main differences between macOS, iPadOS and iOS?

Once we have established everything that the three main Apple operating systems have in common, let’s see how they differ. 


The iPad range can now be compatible with trackpads and mice, making it closer to a Mac, but one area where there is still no movement is on Mac touchscreens. 

Apple thinks its line of laptops and desktops don’t need the ability for users to touch screens when they want to select something. Of course, this has an effect on how the software is optimized in terms of the interface.

With an iPhone or iPad, your natural inclination is to interact with the elements on the screen by manipulating them with your fingers. On a Mac, not so much. Apple has made progress in implementing multi-touch gestures on trackpads . 

However, it negates many of the needs of reaching and touching the screen, maintaining a very different experience even if you are connecting a Bluetooth or wireless keyboard and mouse to your iPad.

We can’t help but think that the generation of kids who are growing up with touchscreens will expect the same functionality from the other devices around them. Time to time. 

File System

iOS and iPadOS have come a long way in terms of design, but when you work with files they are still very compromised compared to macOS. If you want to move files from one application to another for use in projects, they can be Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde on mobile devices. 

Sometimes it works well, but in other situations, combinations of file types and applications can be frustrating. Mouse and trackpad support on iPadOS makes things better, but macOS flexibility is one step ahead. 

Application complexity

Admittedly, there are some very impressive apps on iOS and iPadOS, with the latter’s increased viewing space making it easier to deliver deeper levels of complexity. 

However, it will take some time before you find the likes of Final Cut Pro X or Logic Pro X fully functional even on an iPad Pro. Some of this is due to the hardware, as these applications demand higher levels of RAM than the mobile devices. 

Screenshot 6

There is another piece of software in terms of connecting and controlling MIDI keyboards, preamps and other accessories that you can connect to your Mac or iMac.

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